Tiffany Pottkotter, MSN, MA, LPCC, APRN, PMHNP-BC, is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at ProMedica.
As we approach a new school year with mask mandates for children, it is important for parents to help their kids adjust to mask-wearing. Experts agree it is imperative to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations and to check for updates as recommendations change according to new scientific research. The current CDC guidelines for children are:
- The CDC recommends that everyone 2 years and older wear a cloth face covering that covers their nose and mouth in public settings, particularly where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
- Cloth face coverings should NOT be put on babies or children younger than 2 because of the danger of suffocation. Children younger than 2 years of age are listed as exceptions, as well as anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance.[i]
Individual school requirements vary, so parents should make sure they understand their children’s specific school masking guidelines. It can be helpful for parents to explain to children that mask-wearing is a rule right now.
Six tips to help your children adjust to mask-wearing:
- Model a good attitude and set an example.
Wear your own mask and keep a positive attitude. If you are going to the store and want your child to wear a mask, be sure to put yours on first.
These two simple things–modeling mask-wearing and doing so with a positive attitude–affects the majority of a child’s behavior. If the parent has a clear approach (even if you do not agree with it), the child will be more likely to follow suit and do the same.
2. Explain the importance of mask-wearing. Make masks fun! After all, superheroes wear masks. Parents have an opportunity to teach children that mask-wearing is helpful and important–not a punishment. Based on the latest research, it is considered one of the best things children can do to help stop the spread of germs (a.k.a. the villain). They can literally save lives by wearing a mask, so parents can emphasize that masks help protect others, just like superheroes save others.
3. Size the mask appropriately. Children should have masks that fit snugly around the child’s face to help prevent germs from spreading. It should cover the nose to chin and fit comfortably around the ears.
Have your child pick his/her own design for the face mask! If you can sew, you can sit down and make them, but there are easy, no-sew ways to make a mask, too. If your child is old enough, s/he can even help!
Another tip is to use a different fabric for the front and the back. This helps children easily distinguish the front from the back of the mask.
4. Learn the proper way to mask and unmask. “Donning” and “doffing” are typical words in an organization where employees put on and remove work-related protective gear. They can be great vocabulary words to teach kids.
To properly don (put on) a mask:
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
- Touch only the part that wraps around your ears while you secure your mask.
- Gently pull below the chin to adjust the mask to the position covering your nose to your chin.
To properly doff (take off) a mask:
- Put it in a paper bag, labeled with your name.
- Fold the mask in half.
- Touch the part behind your ear and remove straight forward.
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
5. Have two bins in your laundry room for masks: one marked for dirty masks and one marked for clean masks. These designations make it easy to know which masks are contaminated and which are available for use. It is also important to teach your kids that their masks are just for them and are not to be shared.
6. Practice wearing masks and gradually increase time. It is so important to avoid putting the burden on teachers to teach your kids how to wear a mask. They should be familiar with and used to wearing them before school begins. Maybe just start with wearing them for 10 seconds. As children adjust to wearing masks, parents should gradually increase the time. Once the children are fairly acclimated, have them try reading with their mask on or doing homework for five minutes. Continue to increase the time and vary the activities until they are largely adjusted to mask-wearing.
With a little preparation, many children can adjust to mask-wearing without much difficulty. The sooner parents start helping their children make a gradual transition, the better prepared the children will be for the new school year.